Blythe Knight, one of the most versatile horses in training, will have that admirable aspect of his talent tested on Saturday at Doncaster. Eleven days after finishing down the field in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, the eight-year-old's next assignment will be the Lincoln Handicap, a race he won two years ago.
"He came out of Cheltenham fine," said trainer John Quinn yesterday. "He seems in good form and the intention is to run."
It will be Blythe Knight's fourth successive tilt at the first leg of the Spring Double, in which he will carry top weight this time. He finished sixth three years ago, the last occasion on which the mile cavalry charge was held at its traditional home on Town Moor, won when the race was transferred to Redcar, and came in ninth 12 months ago at Newcastle. Two weeks after that effort, he completed his forthcoming project in reverse, if you like, going on to a Grade 2 hurdle at Aintree, where he beat Osana, the Champion Hurdle runner-up. And thereafter on the Flat he took his form to its highest-ever level, with a victory in the Diomed Stakes at Epsom on Derby day and a third in the Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp on Arc day.
"He ran a sound enough race in the Lincoln last year from a middle draw," said Malton-based Quinn, "and after that he didn't miss a beat. And you name another horse in Saturday's field who could win a Group 3 and run placed in a Group 2. Yes, he's got top weight, but he's a big strong horse. And I plan to use a claimer, so we'll take 5lb or 7lb off, though I haven't sorted out who yet." The white-faced chestnut is set to carry 9st 10lb, minus the claim, and, after carrying 11st 10lb of Dougie Costello round Cheltenham in the mud, may well think he is loose.
Blythe Knight will be racing for the 58th time on Saturday and has notched six Flat wins, between a mile and 10 furlongs, and two over hurdles. "He's probably better on the Flat than over hurdles," said Quinn. "After he won so well at Aintree last year we thought yes, maybe. We were happy to let him take his chance in the Champion Hurdle, but once it was clear he wasn't going to be placed Dougie looked after him. He got bogged down in the mud, but even if the ground is soft at Doncaster on Saturday, Flat soft isn't like jumping soft and it should be fine. In fact, it will play to his strength, which is stamina."
Blythe Knight was one of 90 left in the William Hill-sponsored Lincoln, which has a safety limit of 22, at the penultimate stage yesterday. The ante-post favourite Zaahid, from the Barry Hills yard, needs only five above him in the handicap to come out to get a run, so should take his place in the field. But the long-time second favourite, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Lang Shining, is down in 42nd place on the list.
Last year's winner Very Wise, runner-up Rio Riva and fourth-placed Raptor are set to try their luck again, with trainer Karl Burke particularly sweet on the last-named's chances of improvement. "Last time he wasn't anywhere near the condition he's in now," said the Middleham-based handler yesterday. Ryan Moore has been booked for Ger Lyons-trained Little White Lie, the most fancied of the Irish challengers.
Blythe Knight apart, plans for other Cheltenham contenders have been fairly conventional and Paul Nicholls revealed yesterday that stunning Champion Chase winner Master Minded may not, after all, be finished for the season. Visitors to next month's Punchestown festival may yet have the treat of seeing the five-year-old, in the equivalent Irish race.
"We get the 7lb allowance for his age," said Nicholls, "which makes it attractive. We'll see how he is and what the ground is. After all, he's not going to run next season until the Tingle Creek in December."
Nicholls reported his Grand National candidate Mr Pointment still on course for Aintree, despite his recent flop at Doncaster behind the horse who replaced him as favourite, Cloudy Lane. Yesterday two of Ireland's challengers, Dun Doire and Point Barrow, disappointed at Down Royal, finishing second and third behind surprise winner In The Loop.
Nap: Can't Buy Time(Exeter 3.50)
NB: Hemington (Warwick 5.10)Reuse content